Traveling overseas with your smart phone

Rick Steves: Travel Smart With Your Smartphone

June 3, 2014By: Rick Steves

rick stevesRick Steves, Tribune Content Agency, June 3, 2014

I love all the technology that makes travel easier than ever. Even when you want to get away from it all, it makes sense to take your smartphone (or tablet) with you. You can keep in touch if you want to, plus you’ll have instant access to resources that can enrich your trip. I wouldn’t leave home without mine.

Essentially, a smartphone helps you make the most of your travel time. For example, some of Europe’sblockbuster sights, such as the Eiffel Tower in Parisand the Colosseum in Rome, allow you to buy tickets and have them sent to your phone — enabling you to skip the formidable lines when you get there.

You can also check hours and get directions to places you want to visit, and confirm other details that help you plan your itinerary. I generally don’t care about the weather, but while filming recently in the Italian Riviera — where good weather was critical — I repeatedly checked my weather app hoping for a better forecast than the predicted drizzle.

RELATED: Rick Steves: Renting a Car for Your European Trip

Besides managing the nitty-gritty details, you can enhance sightseeing with audio tours and podcasts. (It works best to download these at home before your trip.) I’m even starting to see more innovative ways to use your mobile device when sightseeing, such as the QR codes posted at spots of interest in ColmarFrance. Scan one, and bam! You’ve got the information right there on your screen for free.

Using your phone abroad isn’t hard, and horror stories you may hear about sky-high roaming fees are both dated and exaggerated. With a little preparation, you can text, make calls, and access the Internet — without breaking the bank.

First, confirm that your phone will work internationally. Find out your service provider’s global roaming rates for voice calls, text messaging, and data roaming and tell them which of those services you’d like to activate. (When you get home, remember to cancel these services to avoid extra charges.)

If you’d rather use your phone exclusively on Wi-Fi, ask your provider to deactivate roaming options on your account. You can also put your phone in “airplane mode,” and then turn your Wi-Fi back on.

Luckily, Wi-Fi is easy to find throughout Europe. Most accommodations offer it, usually for free. When you’re out and about, head to a cafe. They’ll usually tell you their Wi-Fi password if you buy something. Some towns have free public Wi-Fi hotspots scattered around highly trafficked areas. Keep in mind using a shared network comes with the potential for cyber-attacks. It’s safest to use a password-protected network rather than being open to the world. If you’re not actively using a hotspot, turn off Wi-Fi so that your device is not visible to others. And save your banking and finance chores for your return home.

Though widely available, Wi-Fi can be spotty: Signals may slow down or speed up suddenly, or just conk out every few minutes. Data roaming — accessing the Internet over a cellular connection — is handy when you can’t find useable Wi-Fi. It’s important to set up data roaming with your service provider before your trip; if you do this, it costs about $25 for around 100 megabytes (enough to view 1,000 emails or 100 websites) — more than you’ll likely need to bridge the gaps between reliable Wi-Fi.

Budgeting data is easy. For example, you can limit how much you use by switching your phone’s email settings from “push” to “fetch.” This way, you can “fetch” (download) your messages when you’re on Wi-Fi rather than having them continuously “pushed” to your device. If you receive an email with a large photo or other attachment, wait until you’re on Wi-Fi to download it.

Also, be aware of apps — such as news, weather, and sports tickers — that automatically update. On some phones, you can select which specific apps can use data roaming; to reduce usage, check your phone’s settings to be sure that none of your apps are set to “use cellular data.”

Because there are various ways that you can accidentally burn through data, I like the safeguard of manually turning off data roaming on my phone whenever I’m not actively using it — try checking under your phone’s “cellular” or “network” menu, or ask your service provider how to do it. Then, when you need to get online but can’t find Wi-Fi, simply turn on data roaming long enough for the task at hand, then turn it off again. By sticking with Wi-Fi wherever possible and thoughtfully budgeting your data use, you can easily and affordably stay connected throughout your entire trip.

Wherever I go — from people-watching bustling boulevards to beach cafes — I appreciate staying connected with my family, friends, work, and most important — the place I’m visiting.

(Rick Steves ( writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. Email him at and follow his blog on Facebook.)


This article was written by RICK STEVES and Tribune Content Agency from Rick Steves Travel – PBS and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


6 Most annoying things about cruising

The 6 most annoying things about cruising

  • eStockPhoto

There’s a lot that I love about a cruise. Pick an itinerary, like the Mediterranean, and it feels like there’s no better way to see the region than on a ship, on which you can sail from Spain to France and Italy without studying a map, unpacking, or dragging your suitcase from hotel to train or rental car. But I’m not going to lie: There are things that drive me nuts about cruising. Here, my pet peeves — and the lines that have resolved these issues:

  • 1. Sailing out of port … just when things are heating up.


    Is there anything worse than a ship that sails before the sun sets from a port known for nightlife? I have literally stood on a deck fighting back tears as we pulled out of Barcelona at 5 pm, mourning the lost evening.

    Solution: Azamara Cruises and SeaDream Yacht Club have made it part of their mission to overnight in just such places, and when Viking Ocean Cruises launches in 2015, it plans to do the same. Bravo!

  • 2. Paying a single supplement, just because you want to travel alone.


    Solo travel comes with its frustrations. Eating dinner by yourself can be lonely, as can a moment when you see something amazing and realize you don’t have anyone to share it with. A cruise seems like the perfect solution … except most cruise lines charge for the privilege of traveling alone.

    Solution: Norwegian Cruise Line has designed studio cabins so that single travelers don’t get dinged with a supplement fee — complete with a shared lounge that makes it easy to connect with other singles.

  • 3. Giving up the luxury of being able to stay connected.


    Sure, some people pick cruises for the luxury of unplugging completely. But many of us (myself included) feel more relaxed when we have the option of checking email and browsing the Internet easily and inexpensively. Unfortunately, on some lines, that privilege costs a small fortune and feels only a smidge faster than dial-up.

    Solution: Not all lines are created equal on this one. Costa Cruises charges a mere $13 an hour and has Wi-Fi just about everywhere. Check out our handy chart on what Internet access costs at sea, cruise line by cruise line.

  • 4. Being forced to pack bulky dress shoes and (gasp!) a tux or gown.


    It wasn’t that long ago that most cruises had at least one formal night, and that formal night was mandatory. Some ships still enforce these dress codes and, while they seem appropriate on some occasions (transatlantic crossings) and easy on some cruises (say, from ports you can drive to), most of the time, this requirement forces you to check luggage.

    Solution: Ten years ago, Norwegian Cruise Line launched its innovative Freestyle Cruising® concept, which made cruising more like a resort vacation than a historic ocean liner voyage. (In addition to old-fashioned dress codes, the line did away with assigned tables at fixed dinner sittings, a change we thank them for every time my husband and I sail.) Fortunately, many lines followed suit — check out who did away with formal nights in our dress code chart.

  • 5. Having to pay for shore excursions if you want help with sightseeing.


    Historically, cruise lines gave you a port map and sent you on your way if you didn’t book a tour. We understand being protective of that revenue stream, but come on! Is there any aspect of a cruise that’s more important than making sure you have a good time at the destinations the ship visits?

    Solution: Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean offer excellent concierge programs for customers who book top-level suites. I dream that someday, these services will be available to everyone.

  • 6. Cruising through the Caribbean … and not getting enough time on the beach.


    You could easily book a seven-day Caribbean cruise and — between late arrivals, early departures, and can’t-miss shore excursions (such as tours of ancient Mayan ruins) and experiences (including shopping in St. Barths) — end up with just a few hours of beach time.

    Solution: Well, this one is all on you, the traveler. Determine in advance which ports have the best beaches. Then set aside days to hop in a cab and sit by the surf all day. Or book a day pass to a resort on a pretty beach. If what you really crave is beach time, you won’t be sorry — those ruins aren’t going anywhere.